Russia–United Kingdom relations
Russia–United Kingdom relations, also Anglo-Russian relations, is the bilateral relationship between Russia and the United Kingdom. The formal ties between the courts of Moscow and London go back to 1553. Russia and Britain were allies against Napoleon in the early 19th century, enemies in the Crimean War of the 1850s, and rivals in the Great Game for control of central Asia in the latter half of 19th century. They were allies again in World Wars I and II, although relations were strained by the Russian Revolution of 1917. They were at sword's point during the Cold War (1947–1989). Russia′s big businesses and tycoons developed strong ties with the UK′s financial institutions in the 1990s, after the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. The countries share a history of intense espionage activities against each other, with the Soviet Union succeeding in penetration of top echelons of British intelligence and security establishment in the 1930s–1950s. Conversely, British Intelligence asset Oleg Penkovsky run by London and British agent Oleg Gordievsky allegedly contributed to averting the threat of thermonuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Since the 19th century, England has been a popular destination for Russian political exiles, refugees, and wealthy fugitives from the Russian speaking world.
In the 2000s, especially following the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006, relations became strained, and since 2014 have grown unfriendly due to the Ukrainian crisis and other activities by Russia such as the suspected poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, seen as hostile by the UK.
|Coat of arms|
|Area||17075400 km2 (6592800 sq mi)||243910 km2 (94170 sq mi)|
|Population Density||8/km2 (21/sq mi)||262/km2 (679/sq mi)|
|Exclusive economic zone||8095881 km2 (3125837 sq mi)||6805586 km2 (2627651 sq mi)|
|Largest City||Moscow (pop. 503501, 11500100 Metro) 15||London (pop. 174100, 8209000 Metro) 14|
|Official language||Russian (de facto and de jure)||English (de facto)|
|Main religions||41% Russian Orthodox, 13% non-religious, 6.5% Islam, 4.1% unaffiliated Christian, 1.5% other Orthodox, 3.4% other religions (2012 Census)||59.5% Christianity, 25.7% non-religious, 7.2% unstated, 4.4% Islam, 1.3% Hinduism, 0.7% Sikhism, 0.4% Judaism, 0.4% Buddhism (2011 Census)|
|Ethnic groups||80.90% Russians, 3.96% other Indo-Europeans, 8.75% Turkic peoples, 3.78% Caucasians, 1.76% Finno-Ugric peoples and others (2010 Census)||87% White (81.9% White British), 7% Asian, 3% Black, 2% Mixed Race, 1% Others (2011 Census)|
|GDP (PPP) by the WB||$3.373 trillion||$2.933 trillion|
|GDP (nominal) by the WB||$1.485 trillion||$3.029 trillion|
|Military expenditures||$90.7 billion||$72.7 billion|
|Nuclear warheads active/total||1,800 / 8,500||260 / 290|
The Kingdom of England and Tsardom of Russia established relations in 1553 when English navigator Richard Chancellor arrived in Arkhangelsk – at which time Mary I ruled England and Ivan the Terrible ruled Russia. He returned to England and was sent back to Russia in 1555, the same year the Muscovy Company was established. The Muscovy Company held a monopoly over trade between England and Russia until 1698. Tsar Alexei was outraged by the execution of King Charles I of England in 1649, and expelled all English traders and residents from Russia in retaliation.
In 1697–1698 during the Grand Embassy of Peter I the Russian tsar visited England for three months. He improved relations and learned the best new technology especially regarding ships and navigation.
The Kingdom of Great Britain (1707–1800) and later the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (1800–1922) had increasingly important ties with the Russian Empire (1721–1917), after Tsar Peter I brought Russia into European affairs and declared himself an emperor. From the 1720s Peter invited British engineers to Saint Petersburg, leading to the establishment of a small but commercially influential Anglo-Russian expatriate merchant community from 1730 to 1921. During the series of general European wars of the 18th century, the two empires found themselves as sometime allies and sometime enemies. The two states fought on the same side during War of the Austrian Succession (1740–48), but on opposite sides during Seven Years' War (1756–63), although did not at any time engage in the field.
Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger was alarmed at Russian expansion in Crimea in the 1780s at the expense of his Ottoman ally. He tried to get Parliamentary support for reversing it. In peace talks with the Ottomans, Russia refused to return the key Ochakov fortress. Pitt wanted to threaten military retaliation. However Russia's ambassador Semyon Vorontsov organised Pitt's enemies and launched a public opinion campaign. Pitt won the vote so narrowly that he gave up and Vorontsov secured a renewal of the commercial treaty between Britain and Russia.
The outbreak of the French Revolution and its attendant wars temporarily united constitutionalist Britain and autocratic Russia in an ideological alliance against French republicanism. Britain and Russia attempted to halt the French but the failure of their joint invasion of the Netherlands in 1799 precipitated a change in attitudes.
Britain occupied Malta, while the Emperor Paul I of Russia was Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller. That led to the never-executed Indian March of Paul, which was a secret project of a planned allied Russo-French expedition against the British possessions in India.
The two countries fought each other (albeit only with some very limited naval combat) during the Anglo-Russian War (1807–12), after which Britain and Russia became allies against Napoleon in the Napoleonic Wars. They both played major cooperative roles at the Congress of Vienna in 1814-1815.
Eastern Question, Great Game, Russophobia
From 1820 to 1907, a new element emerged: Russophobia. British elite sentiment turned increasingly hostile to Russia, with a high degree of anxiety for the safety of India, with the fear that Russia would push south through Afghanistan. The result was a long-standing rivalry in central Asia. In addition, there was a growing concern that Russia would destabilise Eastern Europe by its attacks on the faltering Ottoman Empire. This fear was known as the Eastern Question. Russia was especially interested in getting a warm water port that would enable its navy. Getting access out of the Black Sea into the Mediterranean was a goal, which meant access through the Straits controlled by the Ottomans.
Both intervened in the Greek War of Independence (1821–1829), eventually forcing the London peace treaty on the belligerents. The events heightened Russophobia. In 1851 the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations held in London's Crystal Palace, including over 100,000 exhibits from forty nations. It was the world's first international exposition. Russia took the opportunity to dispel growing Russophobia by refuting stereotypes of Russia as a backward, militaristic repressive tyranny. Its sumptuous exhibits of luxury products and large 'objets d'art' with little in the way of advanced technology, however, did little to change its reputation. Britain considered its navy too weak to worry about, but saw its large army as a major threat.
The Russian pressures on the Ottoman Empire continued, leaving Britain and France to ally with the Ottomans and push back against Russia in the Crimean War (1853–1856). Russophobia was an element in generating popular British support for the far-off war. Elite opinion in Britain, especially among Liberals, supported Poles against Russia′s rule, after the uprising of 1830. The British government watched nervously as Saint Petersburg suppressed the subsequent Polish revolts in the early 1860s, yet refused to intervene.
London was where the first Russian-language censorship-free periodicals — Polyarnaya Zvezda, Golosa iz Rossii, and Kolokol (″The Bell″) — were published by Alexander Herzen and Nikolai Ogaryov in 1855–1865, which were of exceptional influence on Russian liberal intellectuals in the first several years of publication. The periodicals were published by the Free Russian Press set up by Herzen in 1853, on the eve of the Crimean War, financed by the funds Herzen had managed to expatriate from Russia with the help of his bankers, the Paris branch of the Rothschild family.
At midcentury British observers and travellers tended to present a negative view of Russia as a barbaric and backward nation. The English media depicted the Russians as superstitious, passive, and deserving of their autocratic tsar. Thus "barbarism" stood in contrast to "civilised" Britain. In 1874, tension lessened as Queen Victoria's second son married the only daughter of Tsar Alexander II, followed by a cordial state visit by the tsar. The goodwill lasted no more than three years, when structural forces again pushed the two nations to the verge of war.
Rivalry between Britain and Russia grew steadily over Central Asia in the Great Game of the late 19th century. Russia desired warm-water ports on the Indian Ocean while Britain wanted to prevent Russian troops from gaining a potential invasion route to India. In 1885 Russia annexed part of Afghanistan in the Panjdeh incident, which caused a war scare. However Russia's foreign minister Nikolay Girs and its ambassador to London Baron de Staal set up an agreement in 1887 which established a buffer zone in Central Asia. Russian diplomacy thereby won grudging British acceptance of its expansionism. Persia was also an arena of tension, but without warfare.
There was cooperation in Asia, however, as the two countries joined many others to protect their interests in China during the Boxer Rebellion (1899–1901).
Britain was an ally of Japan after 1902, but remained strictly neutral and did not participate in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5.
However, there was a brief war scare in the Dogger Bank incident in October 1905 when the main Russian battle fleet, headed to fight Japan, mistakenly engaged a number of British fishing vessels in the North Sea fog. The Russians thought they were Japanese torpedo boats, and sank one, killing three fishermen. The British public was angry but Russia apologised and damages were levied through arbitration.
Diplomacy became delicate in the early 20th century. Russia was troubled by the Entente Cordiale between Great Britain and France signed in 1904. Russia and France already had a mutual defense agreement that said France was obliged to threaten Britain with an attack if Britain declared war on Russia, while Russia was to concentrate more than 300,000 troops on the Afghan border for an incursion into India in the event that Britain attacked France. The solution was to bring Russia into the British-French alliance. The Anglo-Russian Entente and the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907 made both countries part of the Triple Entente. Both countries were then part of the subsequent alliance against the Central Powers in the First World War. In the summer of 1914, Austria threatened Serbia, Russia promised to help Serbia, Germany promised to help Austria, and war broke out between Russia and Germany. France supported Russia. Britain was neutral until Germany suddenly invaded neutral Belgium, then Britain joined France and Russia in World War I against Germany and Austria.
United Kingdom – Soviet Union relations
In 1918, with the Germans advancing toward Moscow, the Russians under Lenin accepted the German ultimatum and switched sides in the war, and supported Germany. The Allies felt betrayed by the Treaty of Brest Litovsk signed on 3 March 1918. Britain sent troops to Russian ports in the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War, which was designed to limit Soviet aid to the German war effort.
Following the withdrawal of British troops from Russia, negotiations for trade began, and on 16 March 1921, the Anglo-Soviet Trade Agreement was concluded between the two countries. Lenin's New Economic Policy downplayed socialism and emphasised business dealings with capitalist countries, in an effort to restart the sluggish Russian economy. Britain was the first country to accept Lenin's offer of a trade agreement. It ended the British blockade, and Russian ports were opened to British ships. Both sides agreed to refrain from hostile propaganda. It amounted to de facto diplomatic recognition and opened a period of extensive trade.
Britain formally recognised the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR or Soviet Union, 1922–1991) on 1 February 1924. However, Anglo-Soviet relations were still marked by distrust and contention, culminating in a diplomatic break in 1927. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were severed at the end of May 1927 after a police raid on the All Russian Co-operative Society whereafter prime minister Stanley Baldwin presented the House of Commons with deciphered Soviet telegrams that proved Soviet espionage activities. In 1929, the incoming Labour government successfully established permanent diplomatic relations.
Second World War
Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, 1939
Stalin felt excluded from Western consideration. But he eagerly took up a German offer after a few days negotiations to invade and split control of Eastern Europe including Poland and the Baltic nations. The USSR and Germany signed the Non-aggression Pact in late August 1939, which promised the Soviets control of about half of Eastern Europe, and removed the risk to Germany of a two front war. Germany invaded Poland on 1 September, and the Soviets followed sixteen days later. Many members of the Communist Party in Britain and sympathisers were outraged and quit. Those who remained strove to undermine the British war effort and campaigned for what the Party called a 'people's peace', i.e. a negotiated settlement with Hitler. Britain, along with France, declared war on Germany, but not the USSR. The British people were sympathetic to Finland in her Winter War against the USSR. The USSR furthermore supplied oil to the Germans which Hitler's Luftwaffe needed in its Blitz against Britain in 1940.
German invasion 1941
In June 1941, Germany launched Operation Barbarossa, attacking the USSR. The USSR thereafter became one of the Allies of World War II along with Britain, fighting against the Axis Powers. The Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran secured the oil fields in Iran from falling into Axis hands. The Arctic convoys transported supplies between Britain and the USSR during the war. Britain was quick to provide limited material aid to the Soviet Union - including tanks and aircraft - via these convoys in order to try to keep her new ally in the war against Germany and her allies.
Britain signed a treaty with the USSR and sent military supplies. One major conduit for supplies was through Iran. The two nations agreed on a joint occupation of Iran, to neutralize German influence. After the war, there were disputes about the Soviet delayed departure from Iran, and speculation that it planned to set up a puppet state along its border. That problem was resolved completely in 1946.
In August 1942, Churchill, accompanied by American W. Averell Harriman, went to Moscow and met Stalin for the first time. The British were nervous that Stalin and Hitler might make separate peace terms; Stalin insisted that would not happen. Churchill explained how Arctic convoys bringing munitions to Russia had been intercepted by the Germans; there was a delay now so that future convoys would be better protected. He apologetically explained there would be no second front this year—no British-American invasion of France—which Stalin had been urgently requesting for months. The will was there, said Churchill, but there was not enough American troops, not enough tanks, not enough shipping, not enough air superiority. Instead the British, and soon the Americans, would step up bombing of German cities and railways. Furthermore, there would be "Operation Torch" in November. It would be a major Anglo-American invasion of North Africa, which would set the stage for an invasion of Italy and perhaps open the Mediterranean for munitions shipments to Russia through the Black Sea. The talks started out on a very sour note but after many hours of informal conversations, the two men understood each other and knew they could cooperate smoothly.
Stalin was adamant about British support for new boundaries for Poland, and Britain went along. They agreed that after victory Poland's boundaries would be moved westward, so that the USSR took over lands in the east while Poland gained lands in the west that had been under German control.
They agreed on the "Curzon Line" as the boundary between Poland and the Soviet Union) and the Oder-Neisse line would become the new boundary between Germany and Poland. The proposed changes angered the Polish government in exile in London, which did not want to lose control over its minorities. Churchill was convinced that the only way to alleviate tensions between the two populations was the transfer of people, to match the national borders. As he told Parliament on 15 December 1944, "Expulsion is the method which... will be the most satisfactory and lasting. There will be no mixture of populations to cause endless trouble.... A clean sweep will be made."
The U.S. and Britain each approached Moscow in its own way; there was little coordination. Churchill wanted specific, pragmatic deals, typified by the percentage arrangement. Roosevelt's highest priority was to have the Soviets eagerly and energetically participate in the new United Nations, and he also wanted them to enter the war against Japan.
In October 1944, Churchill and foreign minister Anthony Eden met Stalin and his foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov in Moscow. They discussed who would control what in the rest of postwar Eastern Europe. The Americans were not present, were not given shares, and were not fully informed. After lengthy bargaining the two sides settled on a long-term plan for the division of the region, The plan was to give 90% of the influence in Greece to Britain and 90% in Romania to Russia. Russia gained an 80%/20% division in Bulgaria and Hungary. There was a 50/50 division in Yugoslavia, and no Russian share in Italy.
Cold War and beyond
Following the end of the Second World War, relations between the Soviet and the Western Bloc deteriorated quickly. Former British Prime Minister Churchill claimed that the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe after World War II amounted to 'an iron curtain has descended across the continent.' Relations were generally tense during the ensuing Cold War, typified by spying and other covert activities. The British and American Venona Project was established in 1942 for cryptanalysis of messages sent by Soviet intelligence. Soviet spies were later discovered in Britain, such as Kim Philby and the Cambridge Five spy ring, which was operating in England until 1963.
Relations improved considerably after Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union in 1985 and launched perestroika. They remained relatively warm after the collapse of the USSR in 1991 — with Russia taking over the international obligations and status from the demised superpower.
Relations between the countries began to grow tense again shortly after Vladimir Putin was elected as President of the Russian Federation in 2000, with the Kremlin pursuing a more assertive foreign policy and imposing more controls domestically. The major irritant in the early-2000s was the UK′s refusal to extradite Russian citizens, self-exiled businessman Boris Berezovsky and Chechen separatist leader Akhmed Zakayev, whom the UK granted political asylum.
In late 2006, former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned in London by radioactive metalloid, Polonium-210 and died three weeks later. The UK requested the extradition of Andrei Lugovoy from Russia to face charges over Litvinenko's death. Russia refused, stating their constitution does not allow extradition of their citizens to foreign countries. As a result of this, the United Kingdom expelled four Russian diplomats, shortly followed by Russia expelling four British diplomats. The Litvinenko affair remains a major irritant in British-Russian relations.
In July 2007, The Crown Prosecution Service announced that Boris Berezovsky would not face charges in the UK for talking to The Guardian about plotting a "revolution" in his homeland. Kremlin officials called it a "disturbing moment" in Anglo-Russian relations. Berezovsky remained a wanted man in Russia until his death in March 2013; having been accused of embezzlement and money laundering.
In January 2008, Russia ordered two offices of the British Council situated in Russia to shut down, accusing them of tax violations. Eventually, work was suspended at the offices, with the council citing "intimidation" by the Russian authorities as the reason. However, later in the year a Moscow court threw out most of the tax claims made against the British Council, ruling them invalid.
During the 2008 South Ossetia war between Russia and Georgia, then-UK Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, visited the Georgian capital city of Tbilisi to meet with the Georgian President and said the UK's government and people "stood in solidarity" with the Georgian people.
Earlier in 2009, then Solicitor-General, Vera Baird, personally decided that the property of the Russian Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, which had been the subject of a legal dispute following the decision of the administering Bishop and half its clergy and lay adherents to move to the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, would have to remain with the Moscow Patriarchate. She was forced to reassure concerned Members of Parliament that her decision had been made only on legal grounds, and that diplomatic and foreign policy questions had played no part. Baird's determination of the case was however endorsed by the Attorney-General Baroness Patricia Scotland. It attracted much criticism. However, questions continue to be raised that Baird's decision was designed not to offend the Putin government in Russia.
In November 2009, David Miliband visited Russia and described the state of relations between the two countries as "respectful disagreement".
In 2014, relations soured drastically following the Ukrainian crisis, with the British government, along with the US and the EU, imposing punitive sanctions on Russia. In March 2014, The UK suspended all military cooperation with Russia and halted all extant licences for direct military export to Russia. In September 2014, there were more rounds of sanctions imposed by the EU, targeted at Russian banking and oil industries, and at high officials. Russia responded by cutting off food imports from the UK and other countries imposing sanctions. David Cameron, the UK prime minister (2010–2016), and U.S. president Obama jointly wrote for The Times in early September: ″Russia has ripped up the rulebook with its illegal, self-declared annexation of Crimea and its troops on Ukrainian soil threatening and undermining a sovereign nation state″.
In April 2017, Moscow’s ambassador to the UK Alexander Yakovenko said UK-Russia relations were at an all-time low.
In mid-November 2017, in her Guildhall speech at the Lord Mayor's Banquet, prime minister May called Russia ″chief among those today, of course″ who sought to undermine the ″open economies and free societies″ Britain was committed to, according to her. She went on to elaborate: ″[Russia] is seeking to weaponise information. Deploying its state-run media organisations to plant fake stories and photo-shopped images in an attempt to sow discord in the West and undermine our institutions. So I have a very simple message for Russia. We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed.″ In response, Russian parliamentarians said Theresa May was "making a fool of herself" with a "counterproductive" speech; Russia′s embassy reacted to the speech by posting a photograph of her from the Banquet drinking a glass of wine, with the tweet: "Dear Theresa, we hope, one day you will try Crimean #Massandra red wine". Theresa May′s Banquet speech was compared by some Russian commentators to Winston Churchill′s speech in Fulton in March 1946; it was hailed by Andrew Rosenthal in a front-page article run by The New York Times that contrasted May′s message against some statements about Putin made by Donald Trump, who, according to Rosenthal, ″far from denouncing Putin’s continuous assaults on human rights and free speech in Russia, [...] praised [Putin] as being a better leader than Obama.″
In March 2018, as a result of the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, relations between the countries deteriorated still further, both countries expelling 23 diplomats each and taking other punitive measures against one another. Within days of the incident, the UK government's assessment that it was ″highly likely″ that the Russian state was responsible for the incident received the backing of the EU, the US, and Britain′s other allies. In what the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called the "extraordinary international response" on the part of the UK's allies, on 26 and 27 March 2018 there followed a concerted action by the U.S., most of the EU member states, Albania, Australia, Canada, Macedonia, Moldova, and Norway, as well as NATO to expel a total of over 140 Russian accredited diplomats (including those expelled by the UK).
Additionally, in July 2018, the COBR committee were assembled following a poisoning of two other British citizens in the town of Amesbury, not far from Salisbury, the location of the Skripals' poisoning. It was later confirmed by Porton Down that the substance was a Novichok agent. Sajid Javid, the United Kingdom's home secretary insisted in the house of commons that he was letting the investigation teams conduct a full investigation into what had happened before jumping to a major conclusing. He then re-iterated the United Kingdom's initial question to Russia regarding the Novichok agent, accusing them of using the United Kingdom as a 'dumping ground'
Espionage and influence operations
In June 2010, UK intelligence officials were saying that Russian spying activity in the UK was back at the Cold War level and that MI5 had been for a few years building up its counter-espionage capabilities against Russians; it was also noted that Russia′s focus was ″largely directed on ex-patriots.″ In mid-August 2010, Sir Stephen Lander, Director-General of MI5 (1996–2002), said this of the level of Russian intelligence′s activity in the UK: ″If you go back to the early 90s, there was a hiatus. Then the spying machine got going again and the SVR [formerly the KGB], they've gone back to their old practices with a vengeance. I think by the end of the last century they were back to where they had been in the Cold War, in terms of numbers.″
In January 2012, Jonathan Powell, prime minister Tony Blair's chief of staff in 2006, admitted Britain was behind a plot to spy on Russia with a device hidden in a fake rock that was discovered in 2006 in a case that was publicised by Russian authorities; he said: ″Clearly they had known about it for some time and had been saving it up for a political purpose.″ Back in 2006, the Russian security service, the FSB, linked the rock case to British intelligence agents making covert payments to NGOs in Russia; shortly afterwards, president Vladimir Putin introduced a law that tightened regulation of funding non-governmental organisations in Russia.
- Foreign relations of the Soviet Union
- Foreign policy of the Russian Empire to 1917
- Foreign policy of Vladimir Putin
- History of Russia
- International relations, 1648–1814
- International relations (1814–1919)
- International relations (1919–1939)
- Diplomatic history of World War II
- Cold War
- Embassy of Russia, London
- List of ambassadors of Russia to the United Kingdom
- List of Ambassadors of the United Kingdom to Russia
- Timeline of British diplomatic history
- Anglo-Russian Relations House of Commons Hansard.
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